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Aquino: Lessons my father taught me

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(Last of two parts)

“After that, death sentence came under the military commission…when he said if Mr. Marcos feels I’m guilty, execute me…

“I understood. At the same time ano kaya magagawa ko at 13 (what could I do at 13)? Financial security? Mag-aral mabuti para may trabahong mapapasukan (study well so I could get a job?)?

“That was 1973, I was graduating from grade school….”

But your parents came from, at the very least, comfortable circumstances?

Shortly thereafter daming nawalang kaibigan who were supposedly for life. (We lost many of our supposedly lifelong friends.) Certain family businesses or those owned by relatives, inisa-isa.( singled out)…

Overnight you became, in a manner of speaking, head of the family, as the sole man?

Head of family (laughs)… Kung meron(if there’s a) battle of the sexes, I am outvoted … four of my sisters, and there’s my mother although she stays neutral. Ate was a class above all of us. My opinion was not ignored, but to say that my opinion carried the same weight as Ate’s was stretching it.

The burden was on Ate’s shoulders. She filled the second mother role. My mom was both father/mother… (If there was a family issue) tanong mo muna kay Ate. (Ask Ate.)

When we were in Magsaysay, [Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva, Ecija–Ed] (I saw how) life was fleeting. At 13 years old I realized, puwede palang baligtarin na tama ang mali (wrong could be made to seem right). Puwede palang mangyari sa Pilipinas ito. Kabaligtaran ng nababasa mo (This could happen in the Philippines. The opposite of what you read).  A Filipino doing it to fellow Filipino. That wasn’t imaginable (to me) before my dad’s detention.

The intensity of your reaction has stayed the same through the decades.

Parang ginaranti nating mauulit yon pag kinalimutan natin. (To forget (wrongs) is a guarantee that they will be repeated.)

What immediate lesson did you draw from your father’s assassination in 1983?

He was warned in Taipei, when he got a call. My Tito Len (Oreta) noticed a dramatic change in his disposition after receiving that call—the message was, don’t proceed with your trip because a plan had been hatched against you. This was at Grande Hotel where a picture of him would later show him in a contemplative mood…

I keep telling you about watching the video. (There he was) seated [on the plane] nilagpasan ng guards, kunwari hindi siya napansin, bumalik, kinapa yung vest, pagkakapa ng vest yun (the guards passed him by, pretending not to have noticed him, then they turned back towards him, felt his bulletproof vest). The smile of Dad nung naghihintay nawala… parang he knew (his smile disappeared, as if he knew) at that point that tutuo yung tinawag sa kanya….Papatayin na siya dun…(His caller’s warning  in Taiwan was true. He would be killed.)

Somebody else perhaps could have gone into hysterics…or (not get to the) point of crossing the line…

Somebody had a definition. What’s a hero… it is said a hero is an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times. (My dad) had his own crossroads—he could choose to live a comfortable life, attend to his needs, his wants, as opposed to put all of the burdens of the country on his shoulders. He chose that up to the end. He never stopped trying to do right by his countrymen.

Gawin mong magagawa mo… sagot na ng Diyos yung iba. (Do your best, God will do the rest.)

In a way you went through that in 2010—you were at the crossroads.

Both my parents, given the opportunity, would they shirk responsibility, is that acceptable?

You read about man’s inhumanity to man, it’s clear here in the Philippine context. The stark lesson of how far would you go because of greed? Lust for power. How callous.

When I’m asked if I’ve forgiven, you might forgive yung personal sa amin. Paano yung hindi personal sa amin, yung 50 million Filipinos? Paano yung sinugal tayong lahat? The fate that was gambled. The imposition of martial law had this mindset—we don’t care about all of you, so long as we stay in power.

What do you miss most about your dad?

For the longest time, tagal ko rin hero-worship siya, the font of all knowledge, his dynamism. Jun (President Aquino’s aide) complains that I walk too fast… ‘Jun, pag nakasabay mong tatay ko tumatakbo ka parati, pag naglakad yon’ (Had you been walking alongside my dad, you would be running as he walked)…

What I really would have wanted to see was him in a retired state, playing with and probably spoiling his grandchildren… He never even saw Ate get married. My dad got killed August, Ate got married December… her wedding was postponed (because we were in) exile, uuwi ba…baka ano pa ang mangyayari, so my mom insisted, tuloy niyo na kung talagang sure na kayo (go on with the wedding).

What were your most memorable bonding moments with him?

We had substantial communication. Mom is mom. Dad barkada (gangmate), disciplinarian…Mom? Hindi ko naman masasabing barkada ko nanay ko (I couldn’t call my mom barkada)… si Dad, ang tawag nun, cowboy…pero pag nagalit intense (Dad we called cowboy, but was intense when he got mad).

So what was your barkada moment?

He brought me to a boxing match. I had no school at that time…”

Was this in the States?

No, here. Not in the States, we were watching every penny (there)…My first time to watch boxing…also Harlem Globetrotters (I saw with him). Nag bet kami P1 sa boxing—blue vs another color, red yata… I was blue, Ateneo… first two bets blue won. He challenged me to bet (against him). Third bout hindi blue nanalo… (He didn’t have to pay up).

Hindi siya nag-uutos, tatay mo ko sumunod ka, hindi ganun(He didn’t order me around just because he was my dad). He was not full of himself, yet you were aware of how smart, witty he was. Hindi sobrang bilib sa sarili (He was no egoist). Kung mayabang (if he seemed boastful), it was in a light humorous way.

Did he give you tips about girls?

Many do’s don’ts. Sabi niya, pag babae nagtanong, puwede ka nang sumagot ng oo. That’s Saturday. Come Monday, a girl asked me, puwede ka bang mag-attend ng debut, so yes. Lipa. I was hoping Lipa St., yun pala Lipa, Batangas, may curfew pa…. (He said if a girl asks, say yes. That was a Saturday. Monday, a girl asked me if I could go to her debut. I said yes. Lipa. I was hoping Lipa St. It was Lipa, Batangas. At the time, curfew was enforced.)

Pag junior-senior prom, pull the chair (for the girl). Pag nagpunta sa restroom escort mo. Maghintay ka sa labas. (In the junior-senior prom, pull the chair. Escort her to the restroom. Wait outside.)

Don’t—meron exciting kunong women, baka masyadong forward. Don’t… am trying to sound diplomatic. There are women you get attracted to but when you think about it you won’t get married to. He told me you should be spending your time with those you think you could marry.…

Meron pang advice, don’t play around with hearts. I don’t know if he said hell hath no fury than a woman scorned… He told me, one should be careful…

So now, I’m very careful…

(We both laughed at that.)

Now, what do you think would he say to you, still a bachelor at 53?

Palagay ko sasabihin niya, hayaan niyo siya, alam niyang ginagawa niya. (I think he’d say, leave him alone; he knows what he’s doing.)

What would you have wanted to do with your dad in this lifetime, but never did?

He always had an idea that he wouldn’t have enough time to do everything he wanted. Nagkatutoo nga… umabot sana kami ng time na hindi na siya kasing driven. Proceed at a slower pace…puwede nang magbangkaan lang. Hindi ka nakikisiksik rin. Daming ginagawa nung tao, dami nyang problema.” (What he feared came true. How I wish we reached the point when he wouldn’t be that driven anymore. Where you didn’t have to squeeze yourself into his schedule anymore. He had so much to do, so many problems.)

In stepping up to the plate upon your father’s death and having to look after the safety of your mother and sisters, did you feel you had to sacrifice your personal pursuits?

In the first place, I don’t think we were raised to keep our mouths shut. We were all encouraged to share our opinions.

Personal pursuits?

After my dad’s assassination, I was in a relationship. I asked an older cousin—Tama ba ito, taong inosente, di naman kadamay, pero just because may relationship sa akin, baka madamay. And he said, yun problema, hindi masabing time-out. Siguro naman pag may pagkakataon sumaya, yun pang hihintuan natin? Para naman hindi tama yon.

(I asked an older cousin, is it right for an innocent bystander to be dragged into this (political fight and persecution) just because I have a relationship with her? He replied, we get no respite or time-out from the onslaught of problems. Perhaps if the opportunity to be happy comes, (no one would begrudge you if you don’t deny yourself that.)

(I asked myself) Do you have the right to drag somebody (into politics) because you have a relationship with her?

My happiness cannot be at the expense of somebody else’s. I get into a relationship, I give that person misery or a more complicated life.

So you have subsumed your personal happiness.

Naniniwala ako sa pinaglalaban ng tatay ko, nanay ko. You cannot be in it partially. (You can’t be) a weekend warrior. I believe in the fight of my mother and father.

Now halfway into your term and marking the 30th death anniversary of your father—a special coincidence—what do you feel?

My dad has two favorite songs, the relevant one is The Impossible Dream. Quite poignant. He used to sing it a lot of times at Fort Bonifacio, it seemed tailor-made for him. To fight the unbeatable foe (hums)…

Parang yung gusto niyang maabot is now being turned into reality. Hindi talaga suntok sa buwan lang yong inaasam niya… (What he aimed for is being turned into reality. It’s no longer just wishful thinking.)

More than anything, it is the attitude of the people. …Marami nang naniniwala na walang impossible para sa Filipino (Now many believe that there’s nothing impossible if the Filipino wants it.)….I’ve heard different examples….a taxi driver asking a balikbayan passenger, when are you coming home for good?….Or a beauty titlist who said, parati nating tinatanong kung anong ginagawa ng gobyerno, paano naman kayo, may ginagawa na ba kayo para sa bayan (you always ask what the government is doing for you. How about you, what are you doing for your country)… or some say, hindi naman ura-urada ang pagbabago, patungo na tayo dun. (Some say change can’t happen overnight. We are getting there.)

You now have reasonable people who have aspirations who believe these are being attained or are attainable…”

Your fight against corruption…

At any point in his struggle my dad could have said, taong bayan ayaw nang lumaban. OK na rin ako. But he stuck to his guns. There is right, there is wrong. He would say, I will fight for what is right—people may not be ready to listen to my message right now but since it’s right, there may come a time when I don’t even have to say it. They will listen to it.”

What do you think your dad would say now about what you’re doing?

Ideally, buti naman sinunod mo payo ko (It’s good you followed my advice). Good, but you can do better. He wasn’t one to rest on his laurels.

What other areas? (Laughs) Baka kung nagsipag ka, may apo na ko, may Benigno IV. (Had you worked harder, I would have had a grandchild by now. Benigno IV.)

But  I’m also an  impatient person. Halfway into (my) term, meron na bang na-convict, nakulong? (Has anyone been convicted, put behind bars?) We’re still going through the process. Have we eliminated the scalawags in the police force?… The Sagada tourists trapped in a cave—bakit ka naman magpapatuloy sa cave during or right after a weather disturbance?

Dad had the ability to say you can do a lot more without being preachy, without being disparaging.

How do you think your dad would have handled the pork barrel issue?

There’s a major difference between me and Dad. He’a all action, me, gusto ko planchado, from beginning to end (I’m the type to have everything ironed out). From A to Z. Something worth doing (referring to the investigations) should be done properly, thoroughly, completely.

Are there moments you wonder now, how your mom or dad would have approached the tasks you’re facing?

More often than not, (it’s when I feel a) sense of exasperation, I call on my mom.

But I now feel they have given me already all the lessons there are to learn in life.”


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Tags: Benigno Aquino III , benigno `ninoy’ Aquino jr. , interview , relationships




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